Overjoyed with emotion from his first live performance in nine years, Stevie Wonder broke down in tears as he wished the city of Detroit a happy 300th birthday Saturday night.
"This is a really emotional moment," Wonder said to the crowd at Hart Plaza on the banks of the Detroit River. "It's truly by the grace of God that all of this has happened in my life. I just want to thank you. I want to thank you because you didn't even have to listen to any of my songs or understand my lyrics. Hopefully it brings you joyful thoughts to your heart."
More than 500,000 Motown fans took in the two-hour retrospective of Wonder's hits, which focused heavily on ballads ranging from "Ribbon in the Sky" to "My Cherie Amour." His performance began forty-five minutes late, at 9:45 p.m. with the Calypso-tinged "Master Blaster (Jammin')" and the funk staple "Higher Ground." He quickly slowed down the pace, even introducing his ex-wife, singer Rita "Syreeta" Wright, who joined him for a rendition of her hit with Billy Preston, "With You I'm Born Again." It was a mutual love fest between the two who pledged their "undying" love for each other.
"Our love has never died," he said from the stage in a soft voice. "I loved you since the very first day we met."
"Ribbon in the Sky" prompted older couples to slow dance while youngsters jumped up and down in joy, proving the longevity and staying power of Motown music. The tempo picked up when Wonder's guitarist, Ray Parker Jr., joined the Motown star at the piano for "Woman Need Love (Just Like You Do)."
A giant overhead video screen and a handful of smaller ones gave the collection of families, couples and curious on-lookers a prime view of the performance. Via closed-circuit broadcasts, Wonders show -- which was preceded by sets from the Spinners, Temptations, comedians Tim Allen and Dave Coulier, country singer Anita Cochran and the gospel act Take 6 -- was aired at nearby Comerica Park and Dieppe Park in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Poking fun at his hiatus from the stage, Wonder admitted that he was worried about forgetting the words to his hits. "If I mess up any words, eh, I messed up," he said with a laugh. In perhaps a staged joke, Wonder fudged the words to "All I Do," asking the band to start over.
More than an hour into the show, Wonder charged the crowd with "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "Superstition" and "Signed, Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)," co-penned by Wright. Despite the ninety-degree heat and intense humidity, Detroiters responded fervently, grabbing strangers as dance partners, and punching their fists in the air as Wonder sang the chorus to "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Wonder's introduction of Esther Gordy Edwards prompted a standing ovation, which continued through "Dancin in the Streets" and "Happy Birthday."
The extended performance was just enough for Detroiters to feel the love all over.